Chris Belshaw, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy
The Language of Harm
5 June 2013
What is harm? Or, when is it correct to say that a person, or a thing has been harmed? I defend a familiar account against a recently advanced rival.
I claim –a) all and only things having a good of their own – people, animals, plants – can be harmed; b) they enter a harmed condition when their level of well-being becomes less good than it would have been, were some harming event not to have occurred; c) harm involves ones undergoing some intrinsic change – relational change isn’t enough.
Three important consequences of this: death can harm us; there are no posthumous harms; undiscovered betrayal doesn’t harm us.
What can justify these claims? I contend that all there is to harm is what, ordinarily but after reflection, we want to say about it. Hence my title, and the familiarity of much of what I say. An alternative account, that we need a philosophical investigation into the nature of harm, is one that I consider and reject.
This talk will be of interest to all those needing to know what harm is, and when it occurs.